Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Making the case for four passed-over Hall of Fame candidates

I​ have to admit,​ I​ love​ Hockey​ Hall​ of​ Fame debates.​ That makes this​ a good week for​ me,​ because it’s one​​ of two times during the year that the Hall’s choices are front and center. The first comes in the summer, when the inductees are announced, and the second comes now, as we get ready for induction weekend.

And I can’t get enough. I love arguing over who’s already in. I love arguing over players who aren’t eligible. And I especially love arguing over guys who haven’t made it yet, but maybe should have. Those are the really fun ones, because we can keep revisiting and refining the case for years – maybe even decades.

Over the years, I’ve written plenty of pieces on HHOF candidates. And you’ve probably read plenty just like them, because just about everyone breaks out a list from time to time. But if there’s a criticism of those pieces, mine included, it’s that they can be a bit wishy-washy. We end up listing a bunch of names and talking about the pros and cons of each, and maybe get into why some cases are stronger than others. But most of us try not to be too definitive. After all, you never know when the Hall will prove you wrong.

So today, I’m going to go one further. I’m going to break down the case for four names that have been eligible for a while, and that I’m willing to say should be in the Hall of Fame. No maybes or could-bes or “he has a solid case.” I’m planting my flag in the ground. These four guys should be in. Period.

Will the HHOF prove me right by eventually inducting all four? Maybe, but I don’t like my odds – as you’ll see, some of my picks have been waiting a while. But you never know. I remember going through candidates a few years ago and slowly but surely realizing that Paul Kariya’s case was a lot stronger than I thought. It took a few years, but eventually, the Hall agreed. Can I take all the credit for that? Of course not, that would be ridiculous. But most of the credit? Yes, I think that’s reasonable.

So let’s see if I can work that magic again. Here are the four names I’m willing to get behind as deserving a Hall of Fame plaque someday soon.

Curtis Joseph

Eligible since: 2012

The case for: The big number is 454. That’s Joseph’s career win total, which ranks fifth all-time.

Granted, wins aren’t a great stat for measuring a goalie’s worth, because they’re so team dependent. The wins leaders from a single season tell us close to nothing about true talent. But when you’re looking at career totals, there’s at least some value in the wins column, if only because it highlights guys who were able to hold down jobs as starters on competitive teams for a long time.

And it’s not like Joseph spent his career racking up wins behind loaded rosters. He spent the first 13 years of his career with the Blues, Oilers and Maple Leafs, three teams that were decidedly average (or worse) when he arrived, then got significantly better once he took over. Not all goalies are difference-makers; Joseph clearly was.

The case against: I think we can all agree that the biggest problem with Curtis Joseph is that when he writes a book it shoots straight to number one on the bestseller list and takes over entire walls of bookstores without leaving any room for lesser-known authors, right? Yes, I thought so. Stop doing that, Curtis.

(I’m kidding, of course. I’m not bitter. Joseph’s book is great, and I encourage you to learn more about it right here.)

Beyond that, his wins total is at least partly a factor of longevity over success – he also ranks third in career losses, after all. His career goals-against average and save percentage aren’t all that impressive, and even when you adjust for era they’re good but not amazing. He never won a Vezina or was a first-team all-star.

But the big knock on Joseph seems to be that he never won a Stanley Cup. Is it possible to rank in the top five for all-time wins and still not be “a winner”? That sounds silly, but apparently, it makes sense to somebody.

Why I think he should be in: At least part of my argument in favor of Joseph is that the Hall of Fame, in general, has been too stingy with goaltenders. If you became a hockey fan in 1973 – 45 long years ago – you’ve only seen the debuts of five goalies that made the Hall of Fame. That’s kind of ridiculous, and Joseph seems like a nice opportunity to start a course correction.

But beyond that, Joseph checks both boxes you want in a Hall of Famer: Big numbers over a long career, and a peak period where he was clearly among the very best in the league. He never won that Vezina, but he was a finalist three times and finished in the top five on two other occasions. Remember, his peak overlaps with Dominik Hasek’s; that should be a factor, just like how we don’t penalize guys for not winning Hart Trophies over Wayne Gretzky in the 80s or the Norris over Bobby Orr in the 70s.

Joseph wasn’t Hasek, nor was he Martin Brodeur or Patrick Roy. But that can’t be where the bar is, because if it is then we might as well padlock the Hall doors for goalies right now. We can debate whether a Hall of Fame should be reserved for the very best of the best, but right now hockey is using different standards for different positions. Let’s fix that.

One sentence that will convince you: Everyone else in the top twelve in wins who’s eligible is already in, and the three active players in the group – Roberto Luongo, Henrik Lundqvist and Marc-AndrĂ© Fleury – range from slam dunks to very likely inductees.

Odds he gets in: I like his chances, if only because when Luongo and Lundqvist arrive in front of voters with similar resumes – lots of wins and individual success, no Cup wins – they’re both getting in. That’s going to make Joseph’s exclusion a lot harder to defend. The question is whether he has to wait for those guys, or if the Hall decides to get its goalie house in order first.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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